You can read part one here.
Here’s two players. Player A played in 66 games in 5 years since becoming a starter, an average of 13.2 games (16, 13, 16, 8, 13 games played by season). Player B played in 49 games in 4 years for his career (he’s been a starter his entire career), an average of 12.2 games per season (13, 16, 5, 15 games played by season). Player A is a running back, Player B is a wide receiver. Do they seem durable to you? Injury prone? What if I told you Player A is perceived as one of the biggest injury risks in the game, while Player B sometimes gets a free pass for his injuries. Does that seem like the best way to judge these two?
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Player A is Arian Foster. Player B is Julio Jones. So what affect does their injury proneness have on their rankings, the same for each player? Obviously not now that Arian Foster is already injured. I do think that prior to Arian Foster’s injury it could actually be argued that Julio Jones is an injury risk to a similar degree that Arian Foster is, particularly relative to the positions they play in the NFL (13.2 games per year is actually pretty good for a RB).
Digging into the details though, we see what most people consider obvious: Arian Foster has suffered a lot more injuries than Julio Jones. One difference is most of them have been relatively minor so he hasn’t missed as many games. The other concern with him is that many of them have been of the pull/tear variety and I think we have good reason to suspect, at least anecdotally, that muscle pulls/tears have the biggest risk of recurrence. But it just so happens that Julio Jones has suffered three hamstring pulls in his career, the latest one happened in the 2013 preseason and didn’t cause him to miss any games.
I think it has to be considered a fact that Julio Jones is at greater than average risk for injury. If you disagree, I care not for whatever narrative you might spin that tries to excuse Julio Jones. Narratives don’t move me nearly as much as statistics and the stats say that Julio Jones averages 12.2 games played per season. And while we can argue to what degree a player is an injury risk, I hope you don’t deny that Julio Jones is an injury risk.
And Odell Beckham is too. He’s healthy now, after pulling a hamstring earlier in the year. Last year he famously suffered a very bad tear of the other hamstring which caused him to miss four 2014 games. I think we’ve got a pretty good indication that he has suspect hamstrings (that’s a narrative).
I guess you could say “But wait, what if (select injury risk player of your liking) doesn’t get injured and has a monster year” That could happen, and DeMarco Murray serves as a great example from last year as a player that beat his injury history to do just that. But it’s also true that any number of players can have a monster year. You can take your chances with the players with a history of missing games if you want, I’ll take my chances with the ones that have missed fewer games and have a similar ceiling.
Now if you’re thinking these are guys I won’t draft or something like that… No. That’s not the point. It’s about identifying risky players near the top of the draft board and bringing them down in the rankings to just below the players they are comparable to. For some players it might only be a tie breaker, for the most injury prone players it’s something more than that. To put it another way, a player is probably only lowered to the bottom of the tier he would belong to (if not for being an injury risk) or at most to that much plus the bottom of the next tier. If you see them lowered more than that I think that makes them someone to target as an upside play. 13.2 games of the old Arian Foster is still worth a first round pick. It was the very real chance that he might miss at least half the season that lowered him more than that in many rankings (before his injury).
Wide Receiver Injury Risk Analysis
Okay, I’ve gone on far too long about Foster. Because he is a player that everyone thinks is an injury risk it was great to use him to make that point. Now let’s consider what other players are injury risks and finally, what you should do about it. Here’s the top wide receivers this year along with their games missed/total games over that span.
- Antonio Brown 3/64
- Demaryius Thomas 11/80
- Dez Bryant 5/80
- Odell Beckham 4/16
- Julio Jones 15/64
- Calvin Johnson 9/128 5/48
- A.J. Green 4/64
- Randall Cobb 11/48
Dez is lucky to have only missed 5 games, it would be more except his injuries have generally occurred towards the end of the year. Calvin Johnson is one player that we already know is getting taken down in the rankings due to injury concern, I divided his games missed/total games into two categories, entire career and recent career.
Randall Cobb missed most of his games due to a broken fibula and yes, even though I know I’m warning against biases, I don’t think it’s biased to say that’s a more fluky injury than most. It takes a rare hit to break a fibula. I think this gives Cobb somewhat of a pass. But no, we don’t completely ignore anyone’s injury history, it still counts. That was written before his most recent injury. To update on Cobb, as we already know he’s suffered a shoulder injury. Seems likely he’ll be good to go for week 1.
I’d also like to note some players further on down the line that you might think are safe but it turns out they are scarier injury risks than you could have guessed: Julian Edelman (suffered a concussion plus multiple foot/ankle injuries), Alshon Jeffery (remember the Chicago (Monday?) night game last year with he and Marshall questionable?), and Emmanuel Sanders (he hasn’t missed many games but I looked and he’s suffered a lot of injuries, somewhat reminiscent of.. *gasp* Arian Foster).
It turns out we can’t move Julio Jones and Beckham too far down our list due to their risk because this really is an injury prone group at the top. A.J. Green needs to prove he can stay healthy after what happened last year but like Calvin Johnson he’s being docked in the rankings already. I consider Brown and Demaryius (he’s played all 48 games the past three years) the safest and if I were doing tier based WR rankings I would have them in a tier by themselves. Julio Jones would be in the discussion for the number 1 wide receiver were it not for his injury risk, in my opinion, so I think he too is already being docked in some rankings due to risk. The bottom line is he’s the player that stands out as the riskiest from a games missed perspective so I’m not sure he’s being docked enough.
I recommend staying away from Beckham this year if possible. He still has much to prove, both health and performance wise, before he can be considered a safe top 5 pick at wide receiver. I mean, I don’t think he’ll be the Doug Martin of wide receivers (huge rookie year followed by being a massive bust relative to draft position) but there’s a chance he’ll disappoint in a similar fashion. That’s not a chance I want to take if the other players available are more dependable and have similar upside.
I would rank the players by risk (from least risky) as: Thomas, Brown, Bryant, Johnson, Green, Cobb, Jones, Beckham.
Running Back Risk Analysis
Now to talk Running Backs with injury risk (Legend: Player Games Missed/Total Games During That Span):
- Le’Veon Bell 3/32
- Adrian Peterson 9/113
- Jamaal Charles 17/96
- Marshawn Lynch 8/128 0/48
- Eddie Lacy 1/32
- Matt Forte 5/112
- DeMarco Murray 11/64
We’ve got some durable studs here as well as a couple of question marks. Le’Veon Bell is somewhat of an injury risk. Sounds crazy, right, but I do think he might be a slightly above average injury risk. He missed 3 games to begin his rookie year then a playoff game last year. If the season didn’t end there it’s possible, but we have know way of knowing, that he would have missed several games because on film the knee injury looked pretty significant. Eddie Lacy hasn’t missed a lot of games but he’s suffered concussions, he’s at greater risk than his missed game rate implies.
No one really knows what to make of Adrian Peterson. Did a year off help? Certainly he has to be healthier than ever coming into this year and how often have you heard “it’s the first healthy offseason for (a given player)” like it’s the greatest thing ever. I don’t really know what to make of it, I just doubt it’s a bad thing to come into the year with a clean bill of health. I just wonder if his body will be ready for the pounding, but I would have to guess “yes” is the answer to that.
Jamaal Charles’ missed games came almost entirely in one season but I wouldn’t excuse him as an injury risk because he’s a smaller back and that makes a difference. But he’s not quite a full time back to the degree that some of the others on this list are. That helps alleviate concern. DeMarco Murray should not be considered out of the woods yet, as far as being an injury risk. He’s been injured in three out of four seasons he’s played, like Charles, a slightly reduced role helps.
What’s really striking with these running backs is that Peterson, Forte, Lynch, Forsett and Charles are all getting up there, age wise. Frank Gore is already way up there as a relatively old, age 32 youngster (that means he’s a youngster relative to regular people but old in football terms). So some of these players have dual risk.
A name I didn’t include in the list is C.J. Anderson and it’s because his career has been so short. I’m just going to say I really love him this year and would pick him before DeMarco Murray and Forte in nearly any format. I view Anderson as having a better ceiling and less risk than those two.
I would rank the riskiness for the top running backs, from least risk to most risk: Lynch, Bell, Anderson, Forte, Peterson, Lacy, Charles, Murray. That’s including age and other risk as well (in case I don’t get an age related risk post up or if it’s not up in time for your draft) but keep in mind these are basically just my guesses. I might be insane, but I don’t really have any qualms with C.J. Anderson number one overall. I think he’s got that kind of ceiling.
Before I close this out I’d also like to make a note on player size: I think lighter players are at greater risk for injury and I think it’s just a matter of physics. I suspect that a lot of the concussed wide receivers we’ve seen have been the smaller type (DeSean Jackson, Austin Collie, Emmanuel Sanders, for instance). I can also relate size to the injury Cobb recently suffered. If he were twenty pounds heavier I think maybe we could say that the blow doesn’t force him to the ground as hard as it did. So just keep in mind bigger is probably better when it comes to injury risk (it may be more BMI than weight, technically).
I know in some ways this could come across as confusing because it seems like everyone gets injured and hence is an injury risk. I just think some players are bigger risks than others. The players that have missed miss at least one game nearly every year are particularly concerning, like Julio Jones, for instance; he’s only played all 16 games once in four tries. The bottom line is, if a group of players have a similar range of outcomes then when we rank them we should rank them with careful consideration of their risk.
*Some research and data used was from sportsinjurypredictor.com.
Lance is also on Twitter @RotoLance.